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Chasing Vermeer Hardcover – 2003

4.1 out of 5 stars 251 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the classic tradition of E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, debut author Blue Balliett introduces readers to another pair of precocious kids on an artful quest full of patterns, puzzles, and the power of blue M&Ms. Eleven year old Petra and Calder may be in the same sixth grade class, but they barely know each other. It’s only after a near collision during a museum field trip that they discover their shared worship of art, their teacher Ms. Hussey, and the blue candy that doesn’t melt in your hands. Their burgeoning friendship is strengthened when a creative thief steals a valuable Vermeer painting en route to Chicago, their home town. When the thief leaves a trail of public clues via the newspaper, Petra and Calder decide to try and recover the painting themselves. But tracking down the Vermeer isn’t easy, as Calder and Petra try to figure out what a set of pentominos (mathematical puzzle pieces), a mysterious book about unexplainable phenomena and a suddenly very nervous Ms. Hussey have to do with a centuries old artwork. When the thief ups the ante by declaring that he or she may very well destroy the painting, the two friends know they have to make the pieces of the puzzle fit before it’s too late!

Already being heralded as The DaVinci Code for kids, Chasing Vermeer will have middle grade readers scrutinizing art books as they try to solve the mystery along with Calder and Petra. In an added bonus, artist Brett Helquist has also hidden a secret pentomino message in several of the book’s illustrations for readers to decode. An auspicious and wonderfully satisfying debut that will leave no young detective clueless. --Jennifer Hubert

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Gr. 5-8. The Westing Game, The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler--how exciting to find a book that conjures up these innovative, well-loved titles. That's exactly what Balliett does in her debut novel, which mixes mystery, puzzles, possibilities, and art. The story is set in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood at the University of Chicago's Lab School, where Balliett was a teacher. There, outsiders Petra and Calder become friends as they try to find out what happened to a missing Vermeer painting. That's really all the plot one needs to know. More important are Balliett's purpose in writing and the way she has structured her story. The former seems to be to get to children to think--about relationships, connections, coincidences, and the subtle language of artwork. To accomplish this, she peppers her story with seemingly random events that eventually come together in a startling, delightful pattern. The novel isn't perfect. It glides over a few nitty-gritty details (how did the thief nab the picture), and occasionally the coincidences seem more silly than serendipitous. However, these are quibbles for a book that offers children something new upon each reading. Adults who understand the links between children's reading and their developing minds and imaginations will see this as special, too. Helquist, who has illustrated the Lemony Snickett books, outdoes himself here, providing an interactive mystery in his pictures. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 770L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press; 1st edition (2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0439372941
  • ISBN-13: 978-0439372947
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (251 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #552,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Announcements of Blue Balliet¡Çs adolescent mystery ¡ÈChasing Vermeer¡É recently appeared in our Chicago papers. The articles that I read boasted the use of pentominoes to solve a mystery that takes place in Chicago. As a middle school science teacher, I was immediately intrigued. I am always looking for books that foster good problem solving techniques through creative and engaging methods. I dove into the book enthusiastically and was very impressed with the craft with which Ms. Balliett developed her characters; clearly she is a person who enjoys adolescents. I was also captivated by the setting, I spend a lot of time at the University of Chicago campus and Ms. Balliett envelopes the reader in the aura created by the breath-taking architecture and intellectual energy unique to the Hyde Park area. The illustrations by Brett Helquist are wonderful, they add warmth and a sense of mystery as the reader looks for clues within the artwork (even though the clues are disappointing in their simplicity). And so, as I went along on the journey with Petra and Calder, I was drawn into their dilemma and was decoding messages and looking for clues, thinking that this was a very interactive puzzle.

However, as the solution of the problem began coming together, I was horrified at the methods taken to form the conclusion. I will not give away the ending, but there are two main clues which resolve the issue. The first one is obtained through a dreamlike transmission of information from the dead woman in the painting, a form of ¡Èchanneling¡É. While paintings can convey emotions and cultural atmosphere, they cannot convey specific information about their location within a building!
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Format: Hardcover
This may not be The Da Vinci Code for kids, because it seems that the scholarship and research in Chasing Vermeer are more accurate than that in The Da Vinci Code. However, it?s a clever marketing technique, and it seems to be working.
Having read The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, The Boxcar Children, and all sorts of ?simpler? mystery novels as a child, this really was refreshing. I wish something like this had been around (or that I had known of it) when I was in 6th grade. Even for an adult, it?s an interesting, provocative work, with excellent pacing and sure handed writing. And any book that increases interest in art, thinking, or ideas has automatically hit a home run for me.
Aside from the terrific storytelling and infectious plotting, I was very intrigued by the two main characters. Both are ?hybrids? ? a far cry from the typical Caucasian heroes we see everyday. Bravo to the author for the varied ethnicity!
It?s also a pleasure to read a book written ?in? Chicago. Too many novels take place in New York, or L.A., and believe me ? Chicago is culturally rich enough to support many more stories of this nature.
The hidden clues were fun to figure out. I?ve never had much of a brain for puzzles, so even one aimed at kids between the ages of 9 and 12 challenged me. It took me a while to puzzle the clues out, and when I did, I discovered that there isn?t only one solution! There are two, equally valid solutions ? the one on the website, and the one I found. And yes, there really are two ? even though I don?t possess a proclivity for this sort of thing.
I?m already anxiously awaiting Ms. Balliett?s next book. As she is a teacher in the Hyde Park area of Chicago (which is as rich and culturally diverse as it gets here), I hope to see even more of this magnificent city!
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Format: Hardcover
I was initially very excited to read this book. The packaging and illustration were incredible, and the idea for the book was awesome. I love young adult literature, and mysteries, and was hopeful that I could read this out loud to my students. Upon reading the book, I was thoroughly disappointed. The plot had way too many holes, and left the reader having to question why things were happening the way they were. The method for solving the crime was way too far fetched, and supernatural. This book could have been a lot better if it had many more details included, if the different sub-plots could be meshed together in a better way, and also if you put a completely different author on it. One who can actually write an engaging story. So, the statement holds true here, "Don't judge a book by it's cover." I judged this book by it's cover, and was completely disappointed, and $20 in the hole.
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Format: Paperback
I had high hopes for this book, supposedly a wonderful example of creative problem solving.
Well, sometimes a book is well written, sometimes not. Sometimes it has a satisfying plot or well drawn characters, sometimes not. But, it is rare to find a book that seems to be affirmatively bad for you. Well, this one is.
What kind of book presents a mystery, and then offers that the way to a solution is through hunches, dream communications, coincidence, and silly random solutions to silly random puzzles? Why is this so cute, clever and creative?
Take the pentominos. They are like Tetris pieces and can be used to play number games. But, arrange them randomly to form things that look sort of like letters, then use the letters to guess at the words for a clue? What is that? It's bad cutesy writing; it's bad cutesy science; it's bad cutesy reasoning. It's lazy and phony.
Supposedly, the point of the book is to get children to think creatively. It seems to me that in this context "to think" should be "to reason" or to rely on evidence and to engage in critical thinking. But, the message really is to wing it, to follow hunches, to rely on luck, and to be saved ultimately by silly coincidences, numerology, and by the far-fetched and improbable. I don't think I really want to suggest to a young reader that "creative" and "flaky" are the same thing.
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